Monthly Archives: April 2009

My mental migration to Apple is almost complete …

I have loaded up on the supplies I need to make the transition to the land that Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne built; a couple of PC laptops with Windows XP to tide me over to the next generation of  Macbooks; the much anticipated2009  laptop and desktop incarnations with Snow Leopard OSX. My two aging PC desktops will not be replaced by anything that runs Microsoft on it. Been there. Done that.

A single block of aluminum.

A single block of aluminum.

Windows Vista was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I would not buy any machine that had Windows Vista on it. I would not cross that craggly line. Remember the eons it took to get Windows XP stable with daily doses of updates and hot fixes by IV. Been there. Done that.

Sans the monopolies and heavy-handed ways, Microsoft is the high tech equivalent of the domestic auto industry. Its penchant for conducting  software research and development on the backs of hapless customers is the epitome of cynicism that should be actionable. I will not be a part of that anymore.

I have consulted my crystal ball. The stars are lining up for Apple. Says John Martellaro of ZDNET:

“Recent presentations from  Microsoft strategists have focused on the Surface input technology and software as a service (SaS). The problem is that neither of these pie-in-the-sky approaches remotely address the needs of users.

Microsoft’s new approach vaguely reminiscent of the days when Mark Andreessen said that Netscape is the OS, no need for Windows. Microsoft may now believe that after all.

“Apple’s strategy, in contrast, recognizes that users not only view content but create it. The faster the desktop client experience is in doing that, the better the overall experience for the user. In fact, Apple’s vision of the desktop as an elegant digital hub has never wavered.” John Martellaro, ZDNET

The next two years  are  gonna represent a watershed epoch in the  Microsoft versus Apple war.  Mark my words.

copyright© 2009


Tangential Musings On Lobo, The King Of Currumpaw

Somewhere within the story of “Lobo the  King of Currumpaw” by Ernest Thompson Seton, is a tale so epic that not even the effrontery of Seton’s baroque story-telling and juiced up plot lines, could  smother it.

The unadorned story of being and belonging, struggle and sacrifice and a nobility so lofty that not even the  iron traps of Seton’s bought-and-paid-for campaign could contain it,  stands on its own. It transcends  Seton’s well-intentioned ornamentations and casts an imposing spell on the mind. The story of Lobo could have made for a gripping tale had its protagonist turned out to be just a man. The fact that the protagonist turns out to be a four-legged creature ups the ante in ways that are paradigm-shattering .  And the parables that come tumbling out of this tale foment epiphanies that make us question our place in nature and the larger scheme of things.  Not bad for a tale about a loup garou who would not fall for the wiles of weasly ranchers who would kill him by any means necessary.

Lobo the King of Currumpaw

Nobility always exists at a  distance …. a regal distance: Lobo, the loup garou who would become King of Currumpaw proved, once again that true nobility could not be contained; and that within the tales tellers told, the roles of protagonist & antagonist could be switched within the blink of an eye – Seton’s eye, that is. For that please see “The Wolf That Changed America” before the explicatory spoiler.

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The Cult of Menace

The cult of menace is what obtains on cell block C and the corner street where thugs peer at each other from black hoods that often hide more than sweaty noggins. A “wrong” look at the wrong time can bring out the heat in a  nano second.

The cult of menace is the stock in trade of the Mafia underground  where soldiers swagger and Dapper Dons rule territories with faux reticence and inscrutable miens.

The cult of menace is the lightning rod of vigilantes that inflame the hood  and renegades with protean causes. It is the prime mover of embattled masses and renegade bands that roam the countryside with manifestos and black market  M16s.

The cult of menace  is what separates the Alphas from the Omegas in subcultures where violence is often the arbiter of things.

copyright© 2009

Craigslist computer and electronic classifieds in New York and San Francisco under spam-and-scam attacks!

In the face of unrelenting  spam-and-scam attacks of the computer/electronic classifieds in super metro areas like  New York and  San Francisco, what does Craigslist have up its sleeve to combat these virulent onslaughts?

We here at  Cyberaxis first broached this story after we noticed an unrelenting campaign of spam flooding the New York and San Francisco classifieds from China.  The spammers were posting with impunity bordering on contempt. (We first noticed this around February of 2009, but  it is highly probable that they started much earlier. Craigslist has not responded to our queries.)  The spammers’ prodigious output was swamping the computers and electronics classifieds and affecting Craigslist users’ ability to find local items for sale. If nothing happens in the next couple of months the San Francisco computers and electronics classifieds section might just go down like the New York one – the micro-equivalent of the parasite killing the host. (See the “Update” appendix at the end of this post.)

The big question: Now if spam-and-scam artists can hit Craigslist at will like this, what is there to stop Craigslist haters  (or their operatives) from hitting it across the board with nonsense postings just to undermine its free ads platform as a means of promoting their own schemes? Think of the Craigslist user in San Francisco, Los  Angeles, New York, Chicago and Atlanta. Where do they go right now if they want to browse or post in the computers and or electronics section? Get the point?

Updated list of  other U.S.  Craigslist Sites that are increasingly being hit: (As of 05/12/09)

San Francisco Computers and Electronics Classifieds

New York Computers and Electronics Classifieds

Los Angeles Computers and Electronics Classifieds

Chicago Computers and Electronics Classifieds

Atlanta Computers and Electronics Classifieds

Boston Computers and Electronics Classifieds

Major Warning to Craigslist Users: Now it turns out that this spam is most probably linked to an unsophisticated but effective wire scam, if a post out of the Miami Dade  ads computers & tech section is anything to go by.

Please see a copy of the post and vital anti-scam  information here:

Do people who send money to unknown businesses when the conspicuous warning on Craigslist is clearly against that deserve to be scammed? The answer is yes with a qualified no. With very minimal exceptions, people should not be sending their hard earned money to strangers even on a websites  as well known as eBay.

The Chinese spammers on Craigslist  have been using location blurbs like “Come on baby ….. Shengcunyishangshenghuoyixia” or “Beijing, Beijing” (a sardonic play on New York, N.Y.) in an apparent attempt  to  taunt  Craigslist flaggers and moderators.  Spam is nothing new to Craigslist, but this recent onslaught seems to be unrelenting in a way that raises a lot of questions.

Could these barrages be  probes by tech emboldened bandits to test the integrity of Craigslist’s anti-spam  system? Could they be trying to see how the automated  and human assisted controls (flagging and moderation) can withstand unrelenting attacks. Could Los Angeles, Dallas, and Washington D.C.  be next? The current attacks seem to go beyond simple attempts to con people  out of their money. The brazenness seems to speak to a certain desire to prove something to Craigslist.

Craigslist Honchos: Craig Newmark and Jim Buckmaster outside their humble headquarters - What effective strategy do they have to deal with virulent spam?

Partners in "crime" of free advertising for the people: Craigslist legend, Craig Newmark (left) and C.E.O. honcho Jim Buckmaster outside their humble San Francisco headquarters. Newmark's paradigm shattering ads coupled with user generated content hobbled newspaper advertising from coast to coast.

The Craigslist’s flagging system often seems overwhelmed and while the IT department has quite a few tools in its toolbox, like lowering the flagging threshold,  it doesn’t seem to be commensurately effective against the spam in question.  The ace up the attackers’ sleeve  seems  to be the  newer software  designed to game or bypass Craigslist controls. Craigslist’s ultimate threat of blocking IP addresses of spammers and or hackers doesn’t seem to even come close to fazing these guys.

Charging for posts in computers, as some have suggested  would have the salutary effect it has had in real estate, employment and more recently the erotic section, but as a more global strategy,  it would threaten the very attribute that has distinguished Craigslist from its competitors, namely, free advertising.

The influx of spam from  off-shore operatives  also threatens the local focus of Craigslist websites which are really  independent location-based sites linked by a sub-domain. The mantra to “deal locally with folks you can meet in person” has, for the most part, served Craigslist well and minimized the scams that have wracked eBay over the years.

The law of unintended consequences: Even before the closure of the much maligned Erotic Services, there had been a glaring irony in all of this. In November of 2008, Craigslist had caved into pressure from law enforcement and associated groups by instituting a screening process which required credit card and telephone number verification, not to mention the then new $5 per post charge. The concession was meant to help police in their investigation of illegal activities like the exploitation of minors.

However the unintended effect of this that it immunized the Erotic Services section from eggregious spam while the more up-and-up electronic and computer classifieds were left to fend for themselves.   None of the  religious-cum-law-and-order types  had seen this coming.

Evolution of the Beast: The technology to defeat Craigslist’s controls have  been evolving faster than Craigslist’s  ability to deal with it.  But the problem goes beyond Craigslist, which is a bit downstream when compared with web and  e-mail giants like Yahoo, Google and MSN and Hotmail. The collapse of CAPTCHA sometime early in 2008  did not bode well even  for downstream  operations like Craigslist which relies on CAPTCHA derived controls to distinguish human posters from automated or bot posters. Be that as it may, conspiracy theorists have already started speculating about who may be behind the more recent onslaught against Craigslist, which certainly does not have a shortage of enemies, within and without, if you get my drift.

The Tech World article by Steven J. Nichols-Vaughn (Computerworld U.S. ) zeroes in on this problem:

“It’s not just free email sites that can be made to suffer, though.

John Nagle, founder of SiteTruth, a site that tries to identify bogus businesses and their websites, wrote in late May on Techdirt that while spam on the popular online classified ad service Craigslist “has been a minor nuisance for years … this year, the spammers started winning and are taking over.”

Craigslist tried “to stop spamming by checking for duplicate submissions,” Nagle explained. “They check for excessive posts from a single IP address. They require users to register with a valid email address. They added a CAPTCHA to stop automated posting tools. And users can flag postings they recognise as spam.”

According to Nagle, waxing sarcastic, “Several commercial products are now available to overcome those little obstacles to bulk posting. A tool called CL Auto Posting Tool is one such product. It not only posts to Craigslist automatically, it has built-in strategies to overcome each Craigslist anti-spam mechanism.”

It’s not the only one. There are, he added, “other desktop software products [such as] AdBomber and Ad Master. For spammers preferring a service-oriented approach, there’s ItsYourPost.” The result? “The defenses of Craigslist have been overrun. Some categories on Craigslist have become over 90 percent spam. The personals sections were the first to go, then the services categories, and more recently, the job postings.”

Of course, you don’t have to pay anything. There are now free CAPTCHA crackers available online.

Craigslist is fighting back. The organisation is now using phone verification for some ads. Crackers, in return, are working on a way to break Craigslist’s phone defences. With combat costs mounting, it’s hard to see how Craigslist, which has always been a free service, can continue to survive with its no-visible-means-of-revenue model.

It’s not, as the Craigslist situation shows, that malicious email is the only problem coming from broken CAPTCHA security. Paul Wood, senior analyst at MessageLabs, a UK-based e-mail security company, says, “MessageLabs have already begun to see examples of spammers exploiting other techniques once they have bypassed the CAPTCHA of Google and Hotmail – for example, using Google Docs to create spam content and including the link in the spam email messages, evading traditional antispam techniques that rely on identifying known spam domains in URL.”

Steven J. Nichols-Vaughn Tech World article (Computerworld U.S.


Update as of 4/25/09 (See spam-and-scam alert in main post):

The San Francisco “Computers and Tech” page seems to be  much more aggressive at beating back the waves of spam that are swamping its New York counterpart, especially at night. And the probable explanation for this has more to do with hyperactive user flagging than in-built spam controls (which are for the most part the same across all Craigslist  sites with the possible exception of flagging thresholds.)

SF Bay Area Craigslist is the local village market in the  Bay Area ever since its  its inception in 1995. Its presence is as built into the cityscape as the Golden Gate Bridge and the waterways that flow into its meandering bay. The locals are as protective of Craiglist as yokels are of the local village market.

The SF Bay Area Craigslist also happens to be the busiest  Craigslist websites on the planet. Period. “Touching” this website (figuratively speaking of course)  is like touching the edge of a fast-spinning mill wheel. This applies as much to legitimate users as to  spammers who try to swamp its classifieds.  It is interesting to marvel at this phenomenon, but Craigslist  clearly needs to come up with a more solid solution to the problem of spam. Flagger-fatigue can easily set in and leave the San Francisco website looking like New Orleans after hurricane Katrina.

copyright© 2009

World spam activity map. Source: Postini Inc.

World spam activity map. Source: Postini Inc.

Appendices(Related Reading):

Beware of Craigslist Scams: CBS Video

Chinese Scammers Launch New Offensive by Lain Thompson

Inside Craigslist’s Increasingly Complicated Battle Against Spammers